As most police officers can tell you, when the economy sputters, property crimes tend to increase. One type of crime that has surged over the past few years is metal theft. From sewer grates to gutters, metal theft (especially copper) has become one of the most pervasive property crimes burdening investigators in Louisville. Several factors, including high unemployment and the high cost of living combined with high scrap prices, have tempted some thieves with an offer they can’t refuse. For example, scrap copper that fetched a little over $1 a pound in 2009 is now getting over $4 a pound.
Some communities have taken drastic measures to help curtail the problem. According to a New York Times article by Timothy Williams (“Copper Prices and Incidences of Copper Theft Rise” February 2011), Fresno, Calif., has begun pouring concrete over manhole covers to keep them from being stolen. Other communities have increased penalties for scrap metal theft and are creating tighter security measures to protect metal components essential to infrastructure.
In Louisville, many metal thefts occur in broad daylight and in plain view of onlookers. A work truck and a nondescript person working at a neighbor’s house provide very few leads for the police. Common targets for metal thieves have ranged from catalytic converters that are cut from parked cars to copper gutters and flashing removed from businesses. Air conditioning units and plumbing in residential structures have also yielded a monetary windfall for thieves.
Protection from this type of theft relies on vigilance. Relaying license plates and descriptions of suspicious activity to police have been the biggest deterrent to this type of crime and are the first steps in bringing metal thieves to justice.
In addition to traditional investigation methods, police have also gone to the source of copper sales for assistance. Through meetings with scrap metal purchasers, procedures for identifying and monitoring scrap metal resellers have yielded numerous successes in the Louisville area. In addition, several national organizations and advocacy groups have been created to educate and push for tougher laws. One such organization is Coalition Against Copper Theft based in Washington, DC. Their goal is to pass federal legislation to curb the rising copper theft trend. They recognize that the theft of copper isn’t just a local problem, but one that can potentially cripple the country’s communication, electrical, and highway infrastructure.
As long as scrap metal remains a valuable commodity, there will be those who will steal it. But through active neighborhood watches and the keen eyes of citizens, metal thefts can become a crime that is increasingly viewed as a risky venture by thieves.
If you have information about this type of crime or any other, you are urged to contact the Louisville Metro Police Crime Tip Line at (502) 574-LMPD (5673). All calls are anonymous.